The Perennial Allure of Utopian Sex

In Margaret Atwood‘s cautionary, speculative tale of a genetic engineering run amuck, Oryx and Crake, the Snowman observes the Crakers are unusually and refreshingly sexually enlightened:

Off to the side, from what is probably a glade where the tents and trailers used to be set up, he can hear laughter and singing, and shouts of admiration and encouragement. There must be a mating going on, a rare-enough occasion among the people: Crake had worked out the numbers, and had decreed that once every three years per female was more than enough.

There’ll be the standard quintuplet, four men and the woman in heat. Her condition will be obvious to all from the bright-blue colour of her buttocks and abdomen….

Since it’s only the blue tissue and the pheromones released by it that stimulate the males, there’s no more unrequited love these days, no more thwarted lust; no more shadow between the desire and the act. Courtship begins at the first whiff, the first faint blush of azure, with the males presenting flowers to the females….From amongst the floral tributes the female chooses four flowers, and the sexual ardour of the unsuccessful candidates dissipates immediately, with no hard feelings left. Then, when the blue of her abdomen has reached its deepest shade, the female and her quartet find a secluded spot and go at it until the woman becomes pregnant and her blue colouring fades. And that is that.

No more No means yes anyway, thinks Snowman. No more prostitution, no sexual abuse of children, no haggling over the price, no pimps, no sex slaves. No more rape. The five of them will roister for hours, three of the men standing guard and doing the singing and shouting while the fourth one copulates, turn and turn about….It no longer matters who the father of the inevitable child may be, since there’s no more property to inherit, no father-son loyalty required for war. Sex is no longer a mysterious rite, viewed with ambivalence or downright loathing, conducted in the dark and inspiring suicides and murders. Now it’s more like an athletic demonstration, a free-spirited romp.

 No description of a utopia–even one gone wrong, as they usually do–is complete without its particular vision of how sex is reconfigured in its arrangements. A utopia wouldn’t be one if it retained this world’s insane sexual  jealousy, its violence, its terribly asymmetric, hypocritical, chauvinistic and gendered understanding of sexual roles, responsibilities, virtues and sins. Unsurprisingly utopian visions of sex often run close together; most seek to describe arrangements that ameliorate the devastating effects current sexual politics have on our psyches and bodies. The relief we seek in these imagined worlds is similar: freedom from the terrible burdens imposed on us by the expectations of masculinity and patriarchy, moral superegos, religious guilt, the discomfort our fantasies evoke in us.

Most of all, utopias seek to demote and demystify sex, to knock it off its pedestal; in so doing, ironically, they make intractable the mystery of why something so common, so necessary, so essential, becomes so mythical, so elusive.

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